Ukraine: Miners’ strike over pay, pensions and safety

Iron ore decomposition plant near the 'Rodina' mine, Kriviy Rig, Ukraine (Photo: Wikimedia Commons, 2008)

Since 3rd September, Ukrainian metal ore miners have been staging a heroic strike for improved pay and conditions. They occupied the mines to prevent the bosses from replacing them or using scabs to try and break the strike.  The mine bosses have already been forced to concede between 10%-25% pay rises. Ninety percent of the Ukrainian mines were privatised when the Soviet Union collapsed and they are now run by billionaire oligarchs. One of them is Rinat Akhmeton, who among other businesses owns the Shakhtar Donetsk football club. These billionaire parasites live a life of unbridled luxury while some of the workers in the mines earn as little as $180 a month.

The wealth and privilege of the mining oligarchs are backed up by the Ukrainian state which is happy to give the mine owners stimulus packages (i.e. funding) while not appearing to care a jot about mine safety and the standard of living of the mineworkers.

The mineworkers have put forward a four-point programme of demands:

  1. An immediate and adequate wage increase
  2. The sacking of the mine managers who have allowed the mines to deteriorate to an unsafe state.
  3. The lowering of the pension age for miners.
  4. Improved health and safety regulations.

Regarding pensions, it used to be the case that because mining was considered a dangerous occupation, mineworkers could access their pensions at an earlier age. However, this benefit has been taken from the miners. This is despite the fact that it is estimated that 1,000 miners died in the mines over the last 25 years.

The miners’ fifth demand refers to management short-cuts that are risking the lives of the miners, and they demand a much tighter certification of job roles and responsibilities. This is to stop the bosses using unqualified and under-qualified staff who are not sufficiently trained to understand health and safety issues.

Scandalously, the mine owners claim they cannot afford these demands. They have used every tactic to try and defeat the strikers. This has included physical threats to the families, including children of the strike leaders. In one case of threatened thuggery, the police were forced to provide protection for the family of one of the strike leaders. The bosses have also threatened that the conceded pay rise will not be paid unless the workers end the strike immediately.

More generally, the oligarchs have used their ownership of the Ukrainian news media to claim that if the miners win their demands it will mean increases in prices for all Ukrainian workers, as the mine owners will have to pass on the additional costs to them.  This could have had a very negative impact because the memory of the 2014 energy inflation, which saw a big hike in gas and electricity prices, is fresh in the minds of the Ukrainian working class. This attempt to divide and rule however has, so far, had very limited impact and messages of support from across the country from other workers have been flooding in.

At the time of writing, it looks as if the strike is nearing a conclusion. Two of the mines (the “October” mine and the “Motherland” mine) remain on strike and while the miners may not win all of their demands, the industrial action has sent shock waves through the Ukrainian ruling class. The strike has been like a beacon to workers across the former Soviet Union; activists in Ukraine and Kazakhstan have reported that workers are discussing the strike and drawing inspiration from it. We appeal to workers and trade union organisations across the world to send messages of solidarity to the miners.

Letters of protest can be sent to local Ukrainian embassies and via the emails below:

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September 2020